Today, I’d like to publish a list of digestive aids with just a brief description of each, to summarise what’s available in stores and which supplement to use for a particular problem. Digestive system is very complex and large. It is closely connected with immune system and is responsible for many processes in our body. Naturally, when something goes wrong, it is very hard to say why is it happening exactly, even for medical professional. Symptoms like mild stomach pain or discomfort, bloating and gas, alternating diarrhea and constipation, acid reflux and heartburn, etc., can be prompted by many things and it takes time and effort to find out what exactly goes wrong and sometimes it can still remain undiagnosed. Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and even Candida overgrowth are still not recognised as serious by many medical professionals, even though it is debilitating. So, below is a list of various over the counter aids, that can help with certain digestive problems. Naturally, if a symptom persist over a long period of time and causes a lot of discomfort it is advisable to talk to your doctor. Same advise goes for anyone who takes regular medication.
Artichoke. This vegetable stimulates the secretion of bile from the liver, which aids the digestion and lowers blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Artichoke is good for liver detoxification, cholesterol maintenance and regular bowel movements. It is available in capsules and can also be found fresh in speciality grocery stores. Grilled artichokes are delicious!
Berberine. “Nature’s antibiotic”, Berberine is an alkaloid found in certain plants. It is effective against many types of bacteria, fungi, parasites and some viruses. In vitro, it has showed to be effective against Chlamydia, E. Coli, Salmonella, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, candida and many more.
Betaine Hydrochloride (HCL) increases stomach juice levels, supporting healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, and bowel movement. Stomach juice levels fall with age and can be depleted by antacids.
Charcoal (medicinal). This is activated carbon which is extremely good at absorbing gases. Charcoal is excellent as a quick aid to ease flatulence, bloating and diarrhea. It is also used to treat poisoning and overdoses of certain kind, after ingestion.
Choline aids the production and removal of bile in the liver and increases the nutrient uptake. Choline in excellent for liver detoxification.
Dandelion. The root of this weed herb is high in choline. It increases the bile production in liver and stimulates the release of stored bile. It is also a bitter herb, which means it stimulates the initial phase of digestion, helping to release salivary and gastric juices. It is good as a mild remedy for both liver detoxification and digestion. It is widely available as a tea and also in capsules.
Enzymes are available in complex or on its own. People that struggle to digest many types of food are recommended to take an enzyme complex.
- Amylase is found in saliva and like other enzymes is secreted by pancreas. It breaks down amylose – a starch found in fruits, vegetables, grains and milk, into simple sugars. Amylase is very good to take if someone have digestive discomfort after eating dairy and grains or raw vegetables.
- Bromelain a humble pineapple extract, that has been used in modern medicine since 1957. Bromelain is an enzyme which is especially good for digesting proteins. Bromelain supplement is used in cases of pancreas insufficiency, following pancreatectomy and in other intestinal disorders, as well as to heal gastric ulcers. It is also excellent to use prior to heavy meals if someone struggles to digest proteins. It works in both stomach and the small intestine and it has been shown to be an adequate replacement for pepsin and trypsin in cases of deficiency
- Cellulase is a mix of three different digestive enzymes which break down cellulose to glucose. Cellulose is one of the fibrous parts of plant cell walls and it can be hard to digest.
- Glucoamylase breaks down maltose (malt sugar) into glucose.
- Invertase breaks down sucrose (table sugar) into glucose and fructose.
- Lactase is a very popular digestive enzyme which breaks down lactose (milk sugar) found in dairy products into glucose and galactose. Taking extra Lactase may help lower the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
- Lipase is another popular enzyme which breaks down fat into free fatty acids and glycerol. This helps fat-soluble vitamins to get absorbed.
- Malt Diastase helps to break down starch into simple sugars.
- Peptidase & Protease break down protein into simplest amino acids. Protease 3.0 works best in the acidic stomach, Protease 4.5 is more active in the upper gut and Protease 6.0 is active in the more alkaline middle and lower gut.
Generally, it is not advised to give digestive enzymes to children unless absolutely necessary. However, there’s one enzyme available in health stores that can be safely taken by both children and adults – papain. Derived from papaya, papain works in similar way to Bromelain, helping to digest proteins.
Fennel seeds are great to minimise wind, balance appetite and promote regular bowel movement. It is available in drops and capsules, tea, and seeds that can be added to your regular tea or meals. Fennel is safe to take during pregnancy and it is also safe to give to infants to reduce wind and colic in tummy.
Fenugreek seeds has been traditionally used to help digestion. Fenugreek helps pancreas to release digestive enzymes and protects mucus lining of gastro-intestinal tract.
Fibre. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre absorbs water and provides bulk in the intestinal tract, making it easier to pass stool. Examples of insoluble fibre are: flax seeds (linseeds), bran, vegetables, (especially beetroot) fruits and whole grains. Soluble fibre, such as pectin provide heavy metal chelation, delay gastric emptying, binding to bile acids and reducing cholesterol. Good sources of soluble fibre are beans, oats and lentils. Fibre is great for IBS sufferers – it adds bulk to stools and promotes its regularity, which is good for both diarrhea and constipation. Care must be taken with fibre as too much can interfere with nutrient absorption. It is also essential to drink plenty of water with fibre, to soften it.
Garlic. Another “nature’s antibiotic” – garlic – has broad-spectrum effects against many types of bacteria, virus, worms and fungi. Garlic has been shown to be very effective against candida overgrowth – even more so than the popular conventional treatment – Nystatin. Garlic capsules has being used in China to treat the serious fungal infection – cryptococcal meningitis. Garlic is also used for treating H. Pylori infection that causes stomach ulcers. Care should be taken if someone is experience bloating and gas as sulphur containing vegetables such as garlic and onion might cause further gas production.
Ginger is a great natural remedy to reduce nausea, which makes it very popular amongst pregnant women and those undergoing chemotherapy. It has also been shown to reduce symptoms of motion sickness. Ginger stimulates digestion and possess anti-inflammatory qualities which may be helpful in treatment of ulcers.
Glutamine. I wrote about many benefits of Glutamine before. It is a wonderful amino-acid to take for healing gut and stomach, and to detoxify the liver. The first thing one should take to treat Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Grapefruit Seed Extract. Like Garlic, Grapefruit Seed Extract is great for reducing pathological organisms in the gastrointestinal tract, especially Candida and E. Coli. It is also beneficial for any condition where abnormal gut flora might play a role, i. e. IBS, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc. Grapefruit seed extract is also great as antibacterial mouthwash and water decontaminant during travel.
Lignans. In addition to being a source of fibre, lignans are altered by gut flora into enterolactone and enterodiol. These lignans possess anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects. Lignans are great for nearly all bowel disorders and discomforts. Flax seeds (linseeds) and Schisandra berries are a very rich sources.
Milk Thistle. Again, there is a detailed post describing all the benefits of Milk Thistle for liver and digestion.
Olive Leaf Extract. Research showed that elenolic acid found in Olive Leaf possesses strong inhibitory effects on the growth of viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. It is mostly advised as a supplement treatment for Candida.
Peppermint. Taken as peppermint oil in capsules or – less potent – tea, peppermint promotes healthy gut function, bowel movement and digestive comfort. It also helps to minimise wind and deodorises breath.
Probiotics. There are many kinds of probiotics available, with various strains and quantities. The two most researched and important are Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum.
Low to medium strength probiotics, with no more than a few billion bacteria, can be taken long term to support immune and digestive systems. Higher strength probiotics with more than five strains of bacteria and over five billion are good as a supplement during or post- antibiotic treatment or if taking painkillers on a regular basis. Also, for ulcers, colitis, IBS, Candida overgrowth and other digestive disorders.
Most of probiotics contain FOS – Fructooligosaccharides – simple sugars that are necessary to feed the alive bacteria inside the capsule and to reduce the colonies of bad bacteria. Probiotics with FOS are good to take on a daily basis to support immune system or as a supplement to a course of antibiotics. However, those who would like to take a probiotic supplement to aid bowel discomforts, should avoid FOS as it might cause further bloating.
Pumpkin seed Oil. This oil contain an amino-acid called Cucurbitin, which is patented for use in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals for its anti-parasitic activity. Preliminary human research conducted in China and Russia has shown pumpkin seeds can assist with riddance of tapeworm infestations.
Sage. From 1842 to 1916 Sage was official in the US pharmacopoeia, where it was recommended for aiding digestion and help dyspepsia. It still remains popular remedy now.
Turmeric. This spice is well known for increasing bile acid output, aiding excretion of cholesterol and bilirubin and increasing the solubility of bile. It also improves gastric integrity by increasing mucin content of the stomach, protecting it against ulcers. Here’s more detailed article about turmeric.
This list is not complete, but it does include the most popular and widely available remedies. There are many other herbs and nutrients that can also assist with digestion, but I intend to write more on each one in future. Generally, a diet full of whole grains, vegetables and some fruit is great for healthy digestion. It is also advisable to eat smaller meals more often and to reduce the calorie intake. Remember – the more we put into our bodies – the more toxins we produce. Eating and cooking can be fun and it is a hobby for many people now, but we must not forget that food is a fuel and a source of nutrients first and foremost.